The horror genre has always been a haven for female directors. This Halloween, we decided to shine the spotlight on ten great horror films with women at the helm.
Check out these ten great horror films that are directed by women.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
The ’80s slasher boom kicked off with Friday the 13th but most of those films were rather rote and by-the-numbers. Enter director Amy Holden Jones and her sly sendup, The Slumber Party Massacre. Jones takes the staples of the genre — buxom babes, a single location, and a vicious killer — and ramps them all up to eleven.
Everything is over-the-top in The Slumber Party Massacre and it ends up working as a fun bit of commentary while also succeeding as the slasher it is. The film spawned a trilogy and each entry was directed by a different female director. The original is the best, but these are all goofy little slices of exploitation cheese. The thing is, they know what they are and play with that knowledge in a fun way. [Drew Dietsch]
Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow isn’t just the director responsible for Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker. Having won acclaim for the 2008 Iraq War film, she followed up with 2012’s bin Laden manhunt chronicle Zero Dark Thirty, garnering more plaudits. She’s also, of course, the woman behind adrenaline-fuelled Patrick Swayze-Keanu Reeves surf actioner Point Break.
But back in 1987, she was making waves of another kind with Near Dark. A vampire flick that wouldn’t make an impact until the ripples had spread years later, at the time of release it bombed at the box office even though critics loved it. It went on to become a cult classic.
The film was part of a resurgence in the popularity of vampire films alongside The Lost Boys from the same year and 1985’s Fright Night. It depicts the turning of a young man, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), into a vampire by a female bloodsucker, Mae (Jenny Wright), who attacks him. As he struggles with his new status and attempts to fit into a group of vampires that is reluctant to embrace him — including performances from Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen — he is caught between his new ‘friends’ and his family. When his father and sister are drawn in, he finds a way to escape – but not without a fight. [Kim Taylor-Foster]
Pet Sematary (1989)
Stephen King’s haunting horror novel made its way to the screen thanks to director Mary Lambert. The story centers around a family that moves into a new house and finds an ancient Native American burial ground nearby. Turns out that if you bury something in the ground, it has a habit of coming back.
I’ve spoken at length about Pet Sematary and it’s a surprisingly bleak and mean-spirited little movie. There are moments of genuine horror involving the death of a child and the terrifying lengths a person will go to in order to bring them back. King’s treatise on the fear of death and the monsters it can turn us into is still effective to this day.
And Lambert’s direction sells the idea without a hint of irony. Pet Sematary is a sincere and often chilling portrayal of loss and desperation. It’s also got some great effects work and a classic performance from The Munsters actor Fred Gwynne. A solid entry into your Halloween programming. [Drew Dietsch]
Boxing Helena (1993)
Boxing Helena is a 1993 horror film directed by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch. The film is a harrowing, horrific depiction of a man so obsessed with a woman that he systematically amputates her body in order to hold her captive. Julian Sands (Gotham) plays Sherilyn Fenn’s (Twin Peaks) sadistic captor, who performs numerous surgeries on her after a car accident.
Sands’ surgeon character essentially treats Fenn as a doll, cutting away pieces of her. Fenn, however, cuts Sands down with her words, which creates a creepy yet sexually charged tension between the pair. The film explores forced captivity, sadomasochism, jealousy, agency and forced co-dependency. Both Sands and Fenn deliver believable, terrifying and emotional performances. Jennifer Lynch is able to blend the noir nuances and timeless, classical aesthetics of her father while creating something that is entirely her own. [Lauren Gallaway]
Cannibal movies can be tough to swallow (I’m so, so sorry), but Antonia Bird’s Ravenous is surprisingly accessible considering its grisly premise. Set in 1840s California, a regiment is sent on a rescue mission and runs afoul of a vicious cannibal. But, things aren’t quite what they seem. And as the story progresses, we learn a lot more about this cannibal and his reasons for eating other humans.
What makes Ravenous such a blast is its darkly humorous take on the subject matter. The entire scenario becomes utterly mad and descends into knowing ridiculousness. Plus, Bird’s direction captures the grime and ugliness of the period with striking detail. The subject matter might be too grisly for some, but if you can stomach it (someone please stop me), Ravenous offers laughs and thrills in equal measure. [Drew Dietsch]
American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho is a movie dripping with machismo. Protagonist Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) dreams of putting women’s heads on sticks a la Ed Gein. The film features gratuitous violence towards women, lots of gross macho-yuppie WASP behavior, and somehow feels very cold and masculine. What’s shocking is that American Psycho was directed by a woman, and the screenplay was written by two women (based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel).
There are moments where the storytelling almost reveals director (and co-screenwriter) Mary Harron’s gender. The female characters in American Psycho are somewhat nuanced, especially his secretary (Chloe Sevigny). Each woman, even if she only serves to be one of Bateman’s victims, is given at least some characterization. By giving Bateman’s female victims depth, it makes his crimes feel all the more heinous. These aren’t the two-dimensional victims of a film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. They are real women who suffer at the hands of a monster.
Harron’s direction with American Psycho moves it away from exploitation and toward an examination of toxic masculinity and corporate culture. Ellis’ novel breaks down the horrors of consumerism and Harron’s film asks us to think about how women might become commodities, too. [Danielle Ryan]
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, The Invitation), Jennifer’s Body is a girl-power horror flick that digs deep into the horrors of female friendships. While some of the marketing around the film and studio edits made the theatrical cut a weird sexploitation flick due to the popularity of star Megan Fox, Kusama’s directors’ cut (the “Unrated Cut”) is a gem.
In Kusama’s directors cut, the focus moves from Fox and her sexuality and toward her best friend Needy, and their deeply complicated friendship. This is a film written and directed by women, about the difficult adolescent experiences we share. It’s also a funny, gross, entertaining horror flick. Amanda Seyfried is perfect as Needy – she’s one of horror’s best non-final girl characters. Now if we can just get Kusama to direct Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism… [Danielle Ryan]
The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook came out of nowhere. The Aussie film helmed by first-time director Jennifer Kent isn’t the kind of horror film that usually comes out of Australian cinema, at least not in recent years anyway.
The 2014 horror movie tells the story of a widowed mother whose troubled young son is terrified of monsters lurking in their house. When a creepy book appears, even the boy’s mother can’t keep the sinister presence — or hallucinations — at bay.
With some crafty cinematography given the small budget, The Babadook sets its hooks deep in your soul in a way few horror genre movies do anymore. This is possibly why the film has leant itself to a lot of different interpretations, including theories that the monster is a metaphor for depression and mental illness, addiction, and as an icon for the LGBTQ community. Ultimately, this is a story that only a female writer and director could tell in the way it depicts motherhood without the usual haze of perfection.
Whichever way you want to interpret it, though, The Babadook is one of the creepiest movies you could watch this Halloween. [Colette Smith]
The Voices (2014)
Though The Voices isn’t technically a horror film, its disturbing elements and serial killer storyline put it in the extended horror family. The 2014 dark comedy stars Ryan Reynolds as Jerry, a mentally ill man who stops taking his meds with bloody results. Jerry is the anti-Bateman, a lower-middle-class “nice guy” who really wants to be good. The problem is that his cat, Mr. Whiskers (one of many imaginary voices provided by Reynolds), wants him to kill people. If Mr. Whiskers is the devil on Jerry’s shoulder, his mastiff Bosco is the angel.
This is a film that starts out strange and gets progressively stranger. Much like American Psycho, Jerry’s unreliability as a narrator makes for a confusing, sometimes disjointed film. Whereas American Psycho trades in sheer brutality and sociopathy, The Voices examines a killer who can still care about other people. Director Marjane Satrapi injects just the right kind of absurdist humor shown in her other work, like the Oscar-nominated Persepolis. The Voices is unique, heartbreaking, and hilarious. [Danielle Ryan]
One of the most outstanding horror films of 2017, Raw could actually make a case for being one of the year’s best films full stop. Written and directed by French talent Julia Ducournau, Raw is an uncompromising, unsettling and darkly funny look at cannibalism. It’s also loaded with symbolism making it one of the more important feminist films to hit screens this century.
Aside from its unflinching depiction of female sexuality alongside a girl’s transition as she undergoes a profound change, its outstanding attribute is its tone. The atmosphere it creates, particularly at the beginning as our anti-hero Justine is immersed in college hazing rituals, is disquieting. As the film gets into its stride, it becomes all the more disturbing as it blends graphic, visceral images with the theme of a girl coming of age; a girl who is questioning her identity and finding her place in the world.
There’s an air of An American Werewolf in London about it, as well as a whiff of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and yet at the same time Raw is something all its own.
Ducournau spoke to FANDOM about the film’s influences, which include the movies of David Cronenberg as well as Brian De Palma’s Carrie – and those touches will become obvious as you watch the film. But Raw’s final twist will conjure up thoughts of 1985 high-school werewolf flick Teen Wolf above all else. [Kim Taylor-Foster]